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Best College Life in CNY: Syracuse vs. Cornell

Best College Life in CNY: Syracuse vs. Cornell

College application season is coming, and we know what’s important. Sure, you want a strong academic experience, but if we’re honest there’s something more important. You want the best college life.

Cornell University and Syracuse University are two of the best universities in Central New York. As part of the continuing Throwdown series, we looked beyond the academic reputations to let you know how these two very different college cultures each deliver their best college life.

Deep Histories

Cornell University

Cornell University-credit to Wikipedia Commons

Both Syracuse and Cornell were established during the Reconstruction Era—Syracuse in 1870 and Cornell in 1865. Both schools are large, private, non-profit universities, and were almost located in the same city: Syracuse. The founder of Cornell, Andrew Dickson White, believed Syracuse was a transportation hub that attracted faculties and students. The other founder, Ezra Cornell, disagreed and said Syracuse was a city of sin since was robbed twice here when he was young. Clearly, he thought that Syracuse wouldn’t be an ideal city for the best college life.

Cool facts for the best college life

Cornell University is an Ivy League school, which is viewed as prestigious and is ranked among the best universities worldwide. Compared to Cornell’s ranking of 14 by U.S. News & World Report, Syracuse University is ranked 61st. Their rankings, however, are based on their performance across several indicators of excellence, so it’s hard to examine the strengths of specific majors. For example, Syracuse University is the home of the renowned Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and School of Architecture, which are ranked among the best professional schools in the U.S.

When thinking about where you can experience the best college life, it’s important to consider the social scene. Most people would say students at Cornell are “hard-working.” When it comes to Syracuse University, people’s answers vary, some may use the word “social.” The answers, in some ways, reflect the characteristics of the two universities. Studies have been done about how to have the best college life, including rankings of the partying habits of individual colleges. According to the Princeton Review, Syracuse University is a top 5 party school in 2017, ranked 4th, higher from No. 8 on last year’s national rankings, No. 5 in 2015 but down from No. 1 in 2014. Cornell is not on the list.

Thinking about a picnic outdoors or a nice hike? Luckily, both Cornell University and Syracuse University have great state parks within driving distance—Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse University and Taughannock Falls State Park near Ithaca.

Food is life

The Nines Pizza, Ithaca_Thanks to @luijo22· Instagram

The Nines Pizza, Ithaca, photo credit to luijo22· Instagram

The best college life would not be possible without good food. When you’re tired of writing your paper, you may want something like… pizza. Pizza restaurants are ideal places for students to hang out, take a rest, and most importantly, satisfy your stomach. Here, we will compare two pizza restaurants in Syracuse and Ithaca.

In a former article “Throwdown: The Best Pizza In CNY,” Apizza Regionale won best authentic CNY pizza experience. Now, we will compare it to The Nines, the best pizza place in Ithaca. Located in the heart of Collegetown, The Nines attracts predominantly college students. Students at Cornell have easy access to the best pizza place in walkable distance from campus. Students at Syracuse, however, are not so lucky. Apizza Regionale is located in the downtown area, which takes seven minutes to drive and 24 minutes to walk. When it comes to the speed of food-preparation, Apizza made the pizza quicker while using wood-fired ovens. The cook time was about 90 seconds, at 800 degrees. Meanwhile, at The Nines, students must wait a bit more for deep-dish pizza. When comes to the taste, take a quick look at Yelp to find the stars and comments for the two pizza places.

“I love coming here for the deep dish pizza. I live close to Chicago and actually like nines deep dish better than Chicago deep dish. The sauce to cheese ratio is perfect and I love the crispy crust. . .” said Lindsay C. of Milwaukee, WI. about The Nines. 

Art for art’s sake

Shaffer Art Building,Syracuse UniversityShaffer Art Building, Syracuse University-credit to Wikipedia Commons

ohnson museum of art, Cornell university

Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University-credit to Wikipedia Commons

In both Syracuse University and Cornell University’s campus, there are places for students to enjoy art to have the best college life. There is an art gallery in Syracuse University and an art museum at Cornell, with frequent art displays. Some displays are made by students and/or faculty and some relate to the particular season or holiday. Some are traveling exhibitions and others are a permanent collection of the gallery. “Sometimes those exhibitions are completely abstract, such as a sculpture made out of white plastic chairs,” said Cornell University student Robert Swanda.

There are also lots of art festivals outside the campus. According to, the Syracuse Arts & Crafts Festival is held every summer. For three days, downtown Syracuse is transformed into an art gallery with craftsmen and artists showing their work. Students can purchase artwork there, including materials made from wood, fabric and fiber, glass, metal, paintings, photography and more.

Columnist Stephen P. Burke of the Ithaca Times thinks of Ithaca as primarily a music town. Every July, Ithaca holds the GrassRoots Festival, which attracts 15,000 people. Students can go the festival and have the chance to see some big name artists (past acts included Los Lobos, Rickie Lee Jones, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Lucinda Williams, Old Crow Medicine Show, and more).

Sports, because duh!

Basketball game in Syracuse University

Basketball game in Syracuse University-credit to Wikipedia Commons

Syracuse University is famous for its basketball teams. The men’s team ranked sixth in total victories among all NCAA Division I programs and seventh in all-time win percentage among programs with at least 50 years in Division I. The famous alumni, Carmelo Anthony, named the NCAA Tournament’s most outstanding player, also represents the Syracuse basketball team as well as Syracuse University. Basketball teams in Cornell are not as great as the ones in Syracuse. You can barely find their name in the NCAA Tournament. The appearance in the 2008 NCAA Tournament was their first trip since 1988.

Traditional central New Yorkers may be more interested in lacrosse. The men’s lacrosse team at Cornell was undefeated and untied in Ivy league play, having won 29 conference championships (18 outright, 11 shared). However, when comes to the NCAA tournaments, Syracuse wins, with ten NCAA championship titles compared to three titles won by Cornell University.

Cornell's lacrosse team

Cornell’s lacrosse team-credit to Wikipedia Commons

No matter where you choose to attend college, Syracuse University and Cornell University are both great choices, and you will receive a top-notch education at either one. All of these considerations will help you choose the best school for you and ensure that your college experience is a great one.

About The Author


This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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